Lap band surgeries could be available to more

LOS ANGELES The Federal Drug Administration will consider changing the criteria to make more people eligible for the surgery.

Seventy-two million Americans are obese, and with that number on the rise, many are looking to weight loss surgery to shed the pounds that have put their health at risk.

"I tried Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, LA Weight Loss, prescription diet pills, over-the-counter diet pills and nothing worked," said Rita Pazereckis, who had the lap band wrapped around her stomach to decrease the amount of food she can eat before feeling full.

The surgery is currently available for those considered morbidly obese. But now the maker of the lap band wants the FDA to make it available to more people.

Currently a person who is 5-foot 6-inches tall, weighing at least 247 pounds would qualify for the surgery. Under the proposal people would be eligible at 216 pounds. If an obese patient has hypertension or diabetes, they could weigh as little as 186 pounds to qualify.

Doctor Mark Paya said the benefits of weight loss surgeries outweigh the risks. "Obesity itself might not shorten your life span, but obesity with medical illnesses, especially diabetes, can cause a lot of complications and can cause early death."

Statistics show 90 percent of patients with the lap band have side effects and 30 percent later choose to have it undone. But Dr. Paya said combined with a healthy diet and exercise, weight loss surgery is a good option for many overweight Americans.

"If somebody is 100 pounds over ideal body weight that person will lose about 45 to 50 pounds, and if they try harder they can even lose more," said Paya.

If the FDA approves the proposal, health officials say it would make the procedure available to nearly half of all Americans.

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